AS THE future shape of Hibs begins to be determined by head coach Alan Stubbs, who yesterday gave young Danny Handling a four-year contract, there was a pledge that as long as he is in charge, the Englishman will not short change the club’s supporters.
“One thing I wouldn’t do is put a weakened team out to paying customers that are coming to see the team and suddenly you have names that they don’t recognise,” said Stubbs.
His strong comments came in the wake of controversy involving local rivals Hearts and champions Celtic. Last week Hearts manager Robbie Neilson put out what was effectively a reserve side to face Livingston in the Petrofac Training Cup and the Tynecastle side were duly dismissed from the tournament by a 4-1 scoreline, only to bounce back at the weekend in the Championship and drub Raith Rovers by 4-0 with a genuine first XI.
Celtic’s new manager Ronnie Deila also picked a “rotation” team against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and the champions lost by the only goal of the game – ahead of the £15 million match, the return leg against Maribor in the Champions League play-off, Deila rested ten of his starting line-up from the first leg.
He may lack the playing resources to do so, but even if he had them, Stubbs said he just would not adopt such tactics.
“We’ll put our strongest team as possible out,” said Stubbs, speaking ahead of tonight’s Scottish League Cup second-round tie against fellow Championship side Dumbarton.
“I don’t believe in making wholesale changes, I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s right to the paying public. I think they deserve to see a team on the pitch that is worthy of winning the game.
“It’s my own personal opinion, it’s not necessary the opinion of other people, but I’m trying to get into the mindset and philosophy that you approach every game to win every game. In order to do that you have to put your strongest teams out all the time.
“We could potentially win this competition so why would I want to take chances in the early rounds, or any round to put a team out that might not necessary be one that could win the game?
“Every team that I put out will have a realistic chance of winning the game. I’ll never put a team out with eight kids and one or two people that are on the fringes of playing. From my point of view, I don’t think it’s right for your fans to turn up to see that when they’ve paid their hard-earned money.”
Stirring chord-striking stuff from Stubbs on the day that he also signalled his determination to put his stamp on Hibs by giving 20-year-old forward Danny Handling a contract extension to 2018.
It was what the youngster, who came through Hibs’ Academy, had been looking for, the new offer having first been made by Terry Butcher and then confirmed by Stubbs.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Handling, “the whole process has been going on for a while so it’s good to get it finally done and get over the line. Now I can focus on the pitch and my training.
“I knew I had to impress the gaffer, so maybe I have done that, as he’s been happy enough to give me the contract and I’m delighted.”
Hibs have been Handling’s club since childhood, and indeed he has already been in and around Easter Road for a decade. Stubbs is confident he has secured the services of a potential big name for the club, and a local lad to boot, one of a coterie of young talent that he sees a long-term future for – Sammy Stanton, Alex Harris, and Jason Cummings being mentioned. “When you’ve got ability, it’s about fulfilling it,” said Stubbs. “Danny’s got to knuckle down and become the best he can be. We’ve rewarded him because his early season form was good.
“He’s going to be an important member of the squad and we feel as if he’s someone we can make into a better player.
“It’s fundamental that we get these young lads tied up on longer deals and they’re potentially going to be the future of the club. We want to develop them as players, they’re showing signs of real good potential. We feel that there are lots of areas to improve on.
“From where I’m coming from, I think it’s great for the supporters to see local lads in the team, I think every club should have a basis of local, up-and-coming talent that has been brought through their system and have something that they’re proud of.”
Before the transfer window shuts on Monday, Stubbs is currently on the hunt for experienced players to help him develop his precocious youngsters.
“It’s not going to be a young team of just 18, 19 and 20-year olds” said the manager. “There has to be an element of experience to help them along the way when they need it.
“I feel the balance is quite good at this moment in time but we’re looking to strengthen the team in a few areas where we feel we could benefit. There could still be some players leaving and some coming on. I am sure that up until next Monday it will be busy and frantic.”